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The Original Reasons Superman Needed a Secret Identity

This is "Provide Some Answers," which is a feature where long unresolved plot points are eventually resolved. Today, we look into a few classic Superman stories that addressed why Superman has a secret identity in the first place.

Like so many other things about superheroes, Superman having a secret identity was never really something that anyone ever questioned. It was just a given. It was part and parcel with the character. Don't get me wrong, the concept of the secret identity was already a well-established one in pulp fiction (Zorro, the Shadow) and adventure comic strips (The Phantom) before Action Comics #1 came out in 1938, but it was still something that the readers just had to take for granted.

Over the years, though, when a character is an iconic as Superman is, a common approach by writers is to sometimes address aspects of the character's now-iconic set-up and ask, "Why?" This is how you got stories like "Why is Superman's costume indestructible?" and "Why is Lex Luthor bald?"

Well, in 1958's Superman #127, they revealed why Superman needed a secret identity in the "untold tale" by the name of "When There Was No Clark Kent!" Written by Jerry Coleman with art by Curt Swan and Ray Burnley, the story has Superman filling in the reader on a past event (why this couldn't have just been a new story is beyond me. It's not like there is any need for it to be in the past) where Clark Kent is on a story to a laboratory when it explodes, shredding Clark Kent's clothes and thus making it very difficult to convince anyone that Clark Kent didn't just die in the blast...

Superman's first thought is that he has to establish a new secret identity, but instead, he decides why not try to live without a secret identity. In one of the odder twists in the story, he reveals that he secretly lived with Clark Kent (Huh? That's pretty huge news, Superman! So people just think that he's Clark Kent's secret roommate when Clark inevitably returns? Weird) and so he decides to move in with Jimmy Olsen (why not the apartment he was already living in?) and, well, things quickly turn into a circus...

Not only is everything difficult for Superman to get any peace of mind, it also leaves him vulnerable to villains who know where he lives (and remember, criminals can get their hands on kryptonite way too easily) and so he is almost killed while being distracted by the chaos of his living arrangements...

So Superman uses comes up with a scenario where Clark Kent survived the explosion by being in a giant bottle that was sent flying into the ocean. Lois helpfully notes, "Oh, and you took your hat and jacket off because it was hot in there. That make sense."

This story pretty nicely argues why having no secret identity would be rough for the Man of Steel. However, five years later, there was a story that went even further into explaining the necessity of a secret identity for Superman!

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